The Mahavishnu Orchestra, in its original incarnation, lasted just four years, but in that brief time, the pioneering quintet set both the template and the high-water mark for fusion music. No band ever rocked as hard in a jazzy place as guitarist John McLaughlin’s charging ensemble. McLaughlin had already built a firm reputation in his native England as a keen improviser with blues and rock leanings when he was invited by drummer Tony Williams in early 1969 to join him in New York. Almost immediately, McLaughlin was swept up into the very epicenter of the burgeoning fusion movement, appearing on – in 1969 alone – three of the genre’s most significant recordings: Emergency! (by the newly-formed Tony Williams Lifetime) and In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the epochal Miles Davis albums that kick started fusion.
A household name since the early '70s, John McLaughlin was an innovative fusion guitarist when he led the Mahavishnu Orchestra and continued living up to his reputation as a phenomenal and consistently inquisitive player through the years. He started on guitar when he was 11 and was initially inspired by blues and swing players. John McLaughlin worked with David Bowie, Alexis Korner, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, and others in the 1960s and played free jazz with Gunter Hampel for six months. His first album was a classic (1969's Extrapolation) and was followed by an obscurity for the Dawns label with John Surman, a quintet set with Larry Young (Devotion), and My Goals Beyond in 1970 which was half acoustic solos and half jams involving Indian musicians.
If not for the Mahavishnu Orchestra's first album, The Inner Mounting Flame, this second, 1973 outing might well be considered the greatest of all jazz-fusion essays. If you're new to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this is probably the best place to start, then pick up 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame.
Generally acclaimed as fusion's greatest drummer, Billy Cobham's explosive technique powered some of the genre's most important early recordings including groundbreaking efforts by Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra before he became an accomplished bandleader in his own right.